Robert Thomas (d. 1865)

Mark Fackler

READ : Jeremiah 23:23-32

Is not my word like fire? (v. 29)

Born in Wales in 1839, Thomas and his wife Caroline joined the London Missionary Society and sailed for Shanghai to work in China. But the Hermit Kingdom, as Korea was then called, hung on his heart.

In 1864, Thomas found a way to enter Korea. He slipped in under disguise to distribute Bibles supplied by Scotland’s Bible Society. Only a year earlier, the Korean king had killed 8,000 Catholics in a purge of “foreign religions.”

Later, Thomas joined a group of traders aboard a vessel bound for Pyongyang, serving as translator. The king, believing the ship was a Catholic effort to rebuild its mission, ordered the captain to turn around. But the ship caught on a sandbar. Surrounded by the king’s army, the traders defended themselves until the Koreans set fire to the ship.

Some reports claim that Thomas made it to shore with his Bible, which he offered to the soldier who killed him. The soldier did indeed take that strange book and used its pages as wallpaper in his home. The unbelievable but true result was that the soldier’s nephew was converted and became a pastor.

Today little is known about the church in Pyongyang. North Korea is as isolated and closed to public worship as it was in the day of Robert Thomas. One day that will change, again.


Make your Word my shield, dear Lord.